Blair’s Hot Air

In Opinion on September 1, 2011 at 12:42 AM

It seems post-riots Britain is caught up in a morass of vilification, trolling, finger-pointing, theorising, soap-box preaching and chin-stroking pondering. But fear not, readers, for Tony Blair is here to save us; to steer us onto the one true path of political enlightenment! At least that was how he came across reading his thoughts as reported by the Observer.  So, here follows a critique of his ideas, hopefully showing how it’s all a load of ol’ codswallop. *Disclaimer: this article is written with reference to the aforementioned article, which I trust reported Blair’s thoughts accurately and, more importantly, comprehensively. I recognise that this could in theory be a misappropriation of Blair’s views. In which case, some criticisms may not apply.

Blair’s main point is that elevating the riots ‘into a highfalutin wail about a Britain that has lost its way morally will depress ourselves unnecessarily, trash our reputation abroad, and worst of all, miss the chance to deal with the problem in the only way that will work.’ He claims we have all been embroiled in ‘muddle-headed analysis’, with both the left and the right ‘missing the point’. Upon reading this, I was expecting some interesting new take on the riots to be advanced, despite of course knowing of politicians’ penchant for superficial PR, particularly Blair and his party’s.

He claims that the ‘left says they’re victims of social deprivation, the right says they (the rioters) need to take personal responsibility for their actions’. Although of course generalised, this is clear and concise summary of the reaction to the riots. Though, with Blair claiming he doesn’t see any value in either assessment, or any other opinion in the political jungle, one is left wondering what the fuck he does think caused them….

First (as his views are recorded), he claims that ‘the police need to know they have strong support’ from the politicians and the public. I’m not quite sure what real point there is in saying this. Maybe he’s after a biscuit for being a good little politician. Of course the police need support – the only people who would even possibly deny this are the fuckwits rioting in the first place. It’s not just tautological, though; it’s just plain facile. What good is mere abstract ‘support’, like that shown by the million-strong FACEBOOK GROUP, really going to do the address the perennial issue of (supposed) insufficient police resources/funding (especially in light of proposed 20% funding cuts)…

So, I read on, in hope of getting to the kind of holy grail he gives the impression he is in possession of. The next reason given is that Britain has a group of people who are beyond the pale that we need to address, like “virtually all developed nations,” he states: “the big cause is the group of alienated, disaffected youth who are outside the social mainstream and who live in a culture at odds with any canons of proper behaviour.’’ It’s phrased well, I’ll give him that, but it’s not saying anything that hasn’t been said before. It’s patently fucking obvious that people who smash windows, burn public property and loot shops, often without remorse too, are ‘outside the social mainstream’. I’m actually surprised, given how slippery and wishy-washy the rest of the speech is, that he didn’t feel the need to clarify that the rioters weren’t all ‘youths’. No closer to finding an elusive root cause then…

He declares: ‘the truth is that many of these people are from families that are profoundly dysfunctional, operating on completely different terms from the rest of society, either middle class or poor.’ Firstly, arguably thisis a form social deprivation. If it is, this makes Blair a hypocrite for decrying the left’s claims that the riots were primarily caused by social deprivation. More importantly, these descriptions of morality and family are just that: descriptions – not the enlightened analysis of causes and solutions Blair so obviously believes them to be. The right and the left assert that the rioters are outside the mainstream and, broadly speaking, that this is largely down due dysfunctional families. Therefore, all Blair is doing is saying what everyone else is, however articulately he is doing it.

I’m sure you, fine reader, will know this, but Blair doesn’t seem to, so I will spell it out; what people are primarily disagreeing on is the causes of rebel youths, dysfunctional families and other such issues. The lefty reaction to the riots is – generally speaking – that the rioting was wrong, but the riots must be understood in a context of disaffection, stemming from myriad factors such as social dysfunction, social deprivation and the negative consequences of materialism and laissez-faire capitalism. Then there is a scale of how much this supposed social context is an accurate depiction of reality and how much it can excuse the actions. This goes literally right up to the general reaction of The Daily Mail, typified by this article. In it, Max Hastings affirms that the youth (note, not just the rioters) are all completelypersonally responsible, being the morally bankrupt, feral beasts that they are, and they thus need to be hung, drawn and quartered (ok, so I made that last bit up, but can you honestly tell me it didn’t fit well…). Oh, wouldn’t you look at that; there’s those two ideas that Blair thought couldn’t explain the riots: ‘social deprivation’ and ‘personal responsibility’. This question of how much the rioters are culprits and how much they are victims is the question of profound importance, because it is central to policy on matters of inequality and what punishment should be meted out to convicted rioters.

Blair furthers that neither a ‘conventional social programme’ nor ‘tougher penalties’ will help the rioters. Quite why he thinks they point blank won’t is left a mystery, though, begging the question: ‘what the fuck would you do then, Ton’?! Personally, there’s much to say for both ideas, especially in harmony. Tough penalties may be seen to bring justice (especially for those personally affected), cause the rioters to realise their wrongs and deter other criminality. Whereas social programmes such as benefits, workforce schemes, youth projects and rehabilitation schemes may significantly decrease crime in the longer term. For example, by re-integrating ex-convicts into society and creating a positive sense of community (or, to the cynical, just ‘keeping people off the streets’). Funny, Tony saying this kind of thing won’t work because New Labour were pretty hot on this as I remember. Some right-wing commentators have even blamed such Labour policies for leading to the riots, in the supposed culture of dependency engendered and/or the budget deficit accrued through supposedly reckless spending. It would have been nice if Blair had told us how to tangibly tackle the issues, rather than preach to the choir about the problems (and glibly slam suggested solutions). One would have thought his tenure would have led him to the see the superficiality of ‘armchair politicking’, if you will. Obviously not.

Apparently, this is all a ‘deeply specific problem’ to which we need ‘a deeply specific solution. (This apparent specificity is completely contradicted by Blair’s statement that this is a ‘phenomenon of the late 20th century…(found) in virtually every developed nation… (to which Labour’s solution about 7 years ago was) intervention family-by-family, a reform of criminal justice around antisocial behaviour, organised crime, persistent offenders and gangs.’) Surely, every political problem is specific. With talk of rubber bullets and water cannons, it’s hardly as if Cameron thinks he is merely reacting to a standard incident of shoplifting. What’s more, if the problem really was uniquely specific then crime in the areas where the rioters live would not be as disproportionately high as it is. Isn’t it just typical crime, arguably stemming from typical social problems, sparked by a gangland killing and exacerbated by technologically-driven opportunism?

As for the solution itself, it’s good to see Blair finally offered one, but again it’s not really any different to what is being put forward or criticised by many. It is also arguably unfeasible. The ideas of a presumably left-leaning reform of the criminal justice system are being proposed by many on the left in light of the riots. Intervention by family, essentially, already occurs with counsellors and social workers, who are often criticised for being too controlling and draconian. And, completely besides all the often ‘nanny state’ objections, increasing such provision would cost a bomb.

For me, all these comments amount to is political weaseling; using nice language and clever rhetoric to manouevre himself into a position whereby he can exonerate his leadership and criticise everyone else. Yet, he says very little of actual substance, and when he does it is ironically similar to those who he is denouncing. Not only is Blair saying nothing, though, he seems to paint himself as the one enlightened political pariah, in possession of the supreme knowledge and courage to speak absolute political truths. How else to explain his insistence that there is only one way that will work, his repeated avowals that all politicians ‘miss the point’ and his refusal to truly understand their views. It can only serve to make him appear superior, but ironically, because he offers no decent alternative, it leads to himself doing the finger-pointing he so objects to.

As for his apparent remarkable bravery, he claims his comments on social dysfunction are ‘a hard thing to say’. Personally, it’s not a very contentious thing to say that many of the rioters came from dysfunctional families. If he thinks it is, then maybe he needs to grow some balls to go against the sometimes ridiculous political correctness in this country that his leadership largely fostered.

Personally most irksome, however, is Blair’s admission that his supposedly rash response to the murder of James Bulger (he talked of a ‘moral breakdown’) was ‘good politics, but bad policy’. It is not the action or admission itself that grates, but his idea that politics and policy are somehow two distinct entities. From this one can only assume that he stands by the sentiment, but not the fact that he said it. This intentional divorce of what one believes politically from what one does politically renders his time at No. 10, far more than hitherto thought, mere insincere spin. Maybe politics is, depressingly, mostly spin, but if you’re an important politician you have to be quite a tool to imply this. We (thankfully) live in a democracy whereby politicians can espouse what they want. Some of the time anyway. Is it really too much to ask that they actually believe what they espouse?!

I can imagine Blair being one of those prats on Dragons’ Den who fails to get investment, even if the product’s good, because he just pisses off the Dragons by side-stepping and white-lying around all their questions. Coupled with unbelievably vague views on the Riots in general, one wonders if Blair is in his mind playing a kind of Politics version of the Sims computer game, making facile, insincere proclamations to appeal to ‘dumb automatons’ in order to up his friendshipsintelligence stats and politics level. At least those ‘idiots’ have the heart to say what they truly believe without pithy declarations of the supposed difficulty of expressing it.

I realise ‘criticising the criticiser’ could come across as hypocritical because I don’t know all the causes and solutions by any means, but the difference is that I don’t profess to, much less profess this is a serious political article. What I do know, though, is that Blair is spouting a load of hot air.

Joel Durston

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